What’s up with this universal income thing? To me, Universal Basic Income represents giving up. It is a statement about the rich being so rich and owning so much of everything that they are basically creating an imaginary economy with the sole purpose of preserving their status.
Universal basic income is a way for the rich to protect themselves from having to solve the world for the poor.
Think about it this way: the real wealth is property. Property is heavily owned by the rich. Everyone else had access to property, whose value, because of demand, ever increased, and this demand is built on social mobility.
There are many kinds of social mobility: entrepreneurship, networking, expertise are some, but so are immigration, globalization, industrialization. All these factors created social mobility all over the world, including in each of the first worlds.
This, in turn, created a despicable demand for everything that has any value, real or not, a huge demand for both diamonds and Paris residential spaces, but just as well for clean water, biological food, medical assistance, land, living space, unpolluted air and ecosystems, shoreline and so on.
So, here comes automation, the savior of the rich. People, apparently starting with Bill G., think automation is some grand get-rich-quick scheme that the rich will use to make more money and fire everyone.
This is so stupid. Jobless automation will, by the current rules of the economic game, be a terrible deal for the rich. People need money to buy all the things those machines are making but if you fire everyone how will people buy them? And if people can’t buy, what will they do? Pick up pitchforks or starve in camps guarded by the robot dogs of robot soldiers.
In a future of automated production, robots will be used to enforce slavery. The only possible status of a human in a world of automation is either free or slave, and to be free one must be rich. This is not rocket science. The only thing keeping an apparent freedom in place, even in the worst dictatorships, is the power of the many. Robots will make sure this does not exist anymore.
So, people will have money, digital currencies, in their digital wallets. Simple as that. But what’s next? How does UBI guarantee this bright future everyone talks about? How is some money, that I can buy peanuts or even cool digital toys with, to save me from the doom of the future of automation?
UBI is another kind of opiate-like economy: an economy focused on capturing attention and keeping everyone high on their own brain chemistry. People will be busy with their trivial existence. UBI will not be enhancing mobility, equity, equality, access, basically nothing from the real problems of this economic game we’ve invented. What it will do is create huge new complexity on top of the existing one.
Giving away money, in a move that decouples money from the concept of reward, will effectively limit the people’s access to wares priced for UBI claiming people, while the real value will be priced to only be traded to people earning from their wealth. Because for UBI to be possible, wealth still has to be generated. And someone will still own all the wealth.
Utopia. In a fully automated utopia, money needs to exist only to gauge production levels, aka demand. In a fully automated utopia basic resources from which complexity is built can be traded without the overhead of money, by robots who can exchange immense amounts of ware types for other ware types. The trading robots will act like primitive moneyless humans. Humans, on the other hand, have nothing to trade other than money.
Let’s describe this utopia:
- An impartial, transparent system distributes a fixed amount of money to every person without any requirement whatsoever.
- People can also still work and sell for more money.
- Most goods are produced by an end-to-end automated self regulating system. All hand made goods is rare and either hobby priced or luxury priced.
- Many services are also automated. Human mediated services are either utility priced or luxury priced.
- Some folks earn money from work.
- Some folks earn money from ownership profits of the automated human industrial complex.
- UBI money do not have to increase inflation, so that means some of it comes from all the profits, so it must be a redistribution mechanism. Easiest way: taxes.
- There are several things that work badly with UBI because they’re in a naturally limited supply. Land is the main element. With private ownership still a thing and land still limited, landowners will still be disproportionately more rich than at least the 80% less rich. That is if robots are commonly owned in a way or serious antimonopoly is at play.
So, in this utopia we have not solved inequality, equity or systemic societal issues. We’ve only solved keeping everyone fed, warm and entertained. Will this at least allow us to lower the impact on nature? Possibly, but what is it owned to UBI and what is it owned to the ideal an end-to-end automated self regulating system for goods production? We won’t know, but we can keep everything as is and simply build that dream without UBI then monitor how people spend the money they earn and reach the same conclusion.
But a world without work is not a world without jobs. Even if we create robots to build robots, robots to fix all the robots including the fixer robots and make a kind of a perpetuum mobile of robots making things and themselves, there still will be jobs. Human touch will be a luxury, human limited attention span another luxury, organic interaction so to speak will be a very valued commodity.
The only situation where organic interaction will not be valued is in a pure transhumanist future where we’d have shed the body and moved into this space of dead intelligence, existing purely as digital memories of a once organic existence. Maybe this is possible. Although, I believe curiosity feels best when survival is at stake. If we care less about survival (because of the possibility of remotely controlling bodies), curiosity will bring less and less rewards. So, the danger of complete transhumanism might be extreme boredom.
So, in a future where the abundance of the automated gods of production, distribution and recycling is ensured by a very well fine-tuned system of machines, the question is: how will those who sell organic interaction sell their stuff? Will they sell it, or will they be slaves of their fear of death, guarded by robots put in place to be what the plantation supervisors once were? How can we guard that such a future does not happen, because I fear UBI and mass automation of both production and policing is precisely what will drive in this dystopic situation? Utopia and dystopia are always a split second apart.
UBI will take out of the game a huge amount of people. But the game is the same: survival and thriving. UBI takes care of survival but thriving will be gated away. Why? Because sociopathy and psychopathy do not disappear with introducing UBI: the world is today in the shape it is because there is a great deal of people who are emotionally imbalanced, some pathologically so, but who are functional enough and gifted enough, and lucky enough, to shape their part such that you cannot go around them. Frankly, it may be that it’s desirable to be like that, since these people are also a reformatory force in society because the others, much, much more in numbers, are appalled or offended or suffering.
Back to robots. Eventually we’ll get there, to robots everywhere. Those who claim that automation has constantly created new jobs are using a strawman argument. Humans have not evolved into new and more fulfilling jobs; they have been cornered into jobs we can’t automate yet.
We don’t know how this mass automation will happen. Many things require excavating so much specific matter that it looks today highly unlikely metal plated robotic units will be everywhere. Maybe the real abundance creating robots are still pretty far. Maybe we’re still behind on making good enough materials for mass producing robots that are resistant enough, flexible enough, soft enough to mingle in human societies. But we’ll get there. It will be, like everything, every time, a succession of waves. We are in the four or fifth automation wave. We’re getting ready for the connectivity revolution. We’re behind on energy production though. Coal will not be able to power the number of robots needed to put people out of work all over the globe. To put people out of work all over the globe, robot made stuff must lack externalities and be so cheap that it outcompetes any human attempt. Some of this already exists, but it’s niche.
Let’s be clear: there is nothing wrong in the economical theory that makes things as bad as they are. People are the transformative force of the theory that give it today’s particular shape.
It’s the people who end up in power-rich areas of society who use power to effectively harm humanity who are the problem. Like, take globalization. That is clearly a project that when rushed will cause three to four generations to waste away. That is human potential burned to the ground, for immediate gains which, though, bring one generation close to the dream of not dying, by hoarding wealth and influence beyond counting, and using that for self preservation – either biologically or historically.
Human desire for safety is immense. This is another problem with UBI. There has to be a giver. Somebody, either human or algorithmic will shed the UBI on the general populace. A system that decides, at the very least, how much. What happens when your access to water and air depend on UBI? What if UBI buys you heart beats? Would you rather have heart beats buyable via some centralized UBI coin or via any of dozens of coins you can sell something for?
UBI removes the need to work only if prices are centralized. This must be clear to anyone. With a life based around UBI it will become extremely easy to price out swaths of people from the things that really matter. But maybe that is good, because maybe those things matter little to those priced out. The problem appears when exceptions start popping around in the UBI based crowds. And we’re back to square one.
It is obvious that extremes are the strange attractors of our social, economic and political games. Whatever we do we are drawn to some form of extreme solution. The question then becomes, what is that extreme which once reached has as little detrimental effects as possible? Is there a way to define extremism in centrist approaches? Like what is the zenith of this Sun of human cooperation? If the sun rises in a perfectly libertarian society and sets in a perfectly communist society, what is the topmost point it passes through above our society?